Doctor Zhivago, the CIA, and Feltrinelli’s visa to the USA

In April 2014 the CIA posted on line 99 documents related to the CIA role in the saga of Doctor Zhivago (click here for the documents). All of the CIA documents cited below can be accessed through the given link. Here is the description given on the site:

CIA Publishes Doctor Zhivago in Russian and Exposes Life in USSR under Communism

The CIA has declassified 99 documents describing the CIA’s role publishing Boris Leonidovich Pasternak’s epic novel, Doctor Zhivago, for the first time in Russian in 1958 after it had been banned from being published in the Soviet Union. The Zhivago project was one of many CIA-supported covert publishing programs that involved distributing banned books, periodicals, pamphlets, and other materials to intellectuals in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This collection provides a glimpse into a thoughtful plan to accomplish fast turn-around results without doing harm to foreign partners or Pasternak. Following the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Russian in 1958, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the popularity of the book skyrocketed, and the plight of Pasternak in the Soviet Union received global media attention. Moscow had hoped to avoid these precipitous outcomes by initially refusing to publish the novel two years earlier. There is no indication in this collection that having Pasternak win the Nobel Prize was part of the Agency’s original plan; however, it contributed to appeals to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and it was a blow to those who insisted that the Soviets in 1958 enjoyed internal freedom. Of note, the documents in this collection show how effective “soft power” can influence events and drive foreign policy.

The documents fall into three major categories: 1) receipt at headquarters of the typescript of Zhivago and plans for its exploitation; 2) dealings with Felix Morrow (although the name is redacted he is easily recognizable) related to the ‘pirate’ Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago printed by Mouton in Holland in September 1958; 3) further exploitation of Zhivago within the book distribution program and production of a new pocket book edition of Doctor Zhivago produced at CIA headquarters (published around July 1959). Of course, this is only rough and ready, for these documents contain a great deal more than that.

The documents bring welcome further confirmation and, in some but not in all cases, more precise details to the reconstruction of the events offered in publications that had appeared before their release and most extensively in my book. Whereas all the details about the Mouton edition were confirmed by the new documents, I have to report one correction to my book that concerns the section (pp. 189-190) on the pocket book edition that appeared in 1959. In my book, I had conjectured that this edition was prepared in Germany by the anti-communist group NTS and printed by their printing press Posev. While the details about NTS cited in that section of my book remain correct, for they are statements from NTS representatives reported by newspapers at the time, it is now clear that the declarations were only intended to mislead public opinion as to the real source of the pocket book edition.

While a short summary of these new CIA documents has appeared in the book by Finn and Couvée, The Zhivago Affair (Pantheon 2014), their extensive use still awaits proper scholarly attention. Indeed, the fact that the documents are redacted leaves many unresolved problems.

In addition, we have to guard against the journalistic inaccuracies that continue to beleaguer the literature on Doctor Zhivago. Upon release of the CIA documents, a French journalist for Le Monde (Le Docteur Jivago au cœur de la guerre froide, June 20, 2014) declared that the documents showed that the typescript of the Zhivago used by the CIA was the one used in the translation of the French version of the novel: “La France est peut-être partie prenante dans l'” affaire Jivago “. L’un des documents rendus -publics par la CIA précise que sa copie du livre de Pasternak provient de l’exemplaire ayant servi à la version française. “. And Michael Scammell in an article in the New York Review of Books (click here for review) stated that the CIA documents showed that British intelligence sent the CIA a “photographic replica of Feltrinelli’s original manuscript”. The CIA documents say nothing about Feltrinelli’s typescript.

Both claims are examples of a kind of shoddiness that has affected the literature on Zhivago (Malta stories etc.) for a long time. One can only hope that it will soon become a thing of the past . To repeat, there is no trace in the CIA documents of any evidence supporting either one of the two claims. The French journalist confused mention of the Autobiography in the CIA documents with Doctor Zhivago, not a small difference. As for Scammell, his statement is all the more surprising as his article was presented as, in part, a review of my book and he mentioned having done independent research on the CIA documents. (For my reply to his review and Scammell’s reply to my reply click here)

Had he read the book carefully, he would have noticed my alerting the reader, on pp. 121-122, that the problem of which typescript of Doctor Zhivago was sent to the CIA is an important problem awaiting solution. Indeed, despite his confident claim, it can easily be shown that the Feltrinelli typescript was not the one used by the CIA. I will provide the evidence in a future post, for the contents of this post relate to something different.

In this post, I would like to show how the new CIA documents and those coming from other archives complement each other. It is important to stress two things. First of all, many of the CIA documents can properly be interpreted, on account of their being redacted, only against the background of information provided by the non CIA archival documents. This is absolutely evident for all that concerns the Mouton edition, Morrow, and the role of the University of Michigan Press. Secondly, the CIA sources are sometimes wide of the mark and one cannot accept everything they state at face value; accordingly, they have to be evaluated against more reliable information coming from non CIA sources. Conversely, the non CIA documents also benefit from being read against the background of what the CIA was up to.

By way of a case study, I would like to focus on what some of the CIA documents report about Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. But since Feltrinelli is mentioned in most of these documents, I have to narrow my focus.

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli

I will be after the issue of how it became possible for Feltrinelli to receive a visa to enter the United States of America in early 1959. His communist past and uncertainties about his allegiance in 1958 militated against inviting him. Indeed, in spring 1958 he had been denied a visa to enter the Unites States. However, the State Department had his own interest in wanting to invite Feltrinelli to come to the States, namely they were interested in acquiring all the translation rights for a huge variety of languages in order to use Doctor Zhivago in their book distribution program and their psychological warfare against the Soviet Union. This was not a secondary aim of the CIA. On the contrary it figures from the very beginning as one of the main goals. For instance in the document dated December 12, 1957 we read: “Dr. Zhivago should be published in a maximum number of foreign editions, for maximum free world discussion and acclaim and consideration for such honor as the Nobel prize.” Feltrinelli’s invitation to the Unites States, as we shall see, fits into the plan. However, the CIA documents are not so perspicuous and it is only using the resources of the Feltrinelli archive and some other documents from the National Archives that a fuller picture emerge.

The connection to the State Department emerged through Kyrill Schabert, president of Pantheon, the American publisher of Doctor Zhivago. There is an interesting document preserved at the National Archives in College Park (not part of the documents put on line in May 2014) that explains the interest of granting Feltrinelli a visa to visit the USA. The memo is sent from Louis A. Fanget of ICS [Information Center Services] to H. T. Carter of IGC [Office of General Counsel] (both ICS and IGC were organizations of USIA; for the structure of USIA click here).

United States Information Agency

United States Information Agency

The date is October 31, 1958. Subject: “Doctor Zhivago”:

In planning for exploitation of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, ICS decided to try to acquire permission on rights for translation into the principal Asiatic languages such as Hindi, Galli, Urdu, Arabic and other similar languages. This is customary procedure on books that have special significance for our program. We were informed by the American Publisher of the book, Pantheon Books, that the rights we sought were held by the Firm of Feltrinelli, in Milan. Mr. Kyrill Schabert, President of Pantheon Books, indicated that he was well acquainted with Mr. Feltrinelli and would attempt to get the rights for us. Thus we asked Mr. Schabert to do this in a letter of October 14, 1958.

During the last two weeks a number of posts have asked for language rights for the book and consequently we called Mr. Schabert to learn of progress, if any, we had made with Mr. Feltrinelli. Mr. Schabert indicated that he had not heard, but at our request phoned Mr. Feltrinelli for the information.

Mr. Schabert stated that Mr. Feltrinelli agreed in principle to let us have the rights to the languages we sought. Mr. Schabert indicated that Mr. Feltrinelli surmised that he was seeking the rights in our behalf. Mr. Feltrinelli told Mr. Schabert that he wished to come to the States to discuss the foreign language publication aspect of the book with us. Mr. Schabert indicated that Mr. Feltrinelli was seeking permission to enter the country and was not in any way attempting to obtain a grant of funds to do so, or to obtain a trip on a quasi official basis.

We understand that Mr. Feltrinelli attempted to come to this country in June of this year to attend the Convention of the American Book Sellers at Atlantic City, but that he was unable to obtain a visa. We do not have any definite knowledge that he was denied a visa on political grounds though it is generally understood at that time that Mr. Feltrinelli was one of the leading publishers in Italy of communist books. He is an extremely wealthy person, we understand, and consequently would not need financial assistance.

If it would speed up the processes for our acquiring the rights we seek by having Mr. Feltrinelli come here, we think it would be desirable, provided of course that no serious problems would be presented by such a visit. It would be understood, also, that he would come at his own expense and would not have any official status whatever. Obviously it will be important to us to get out as many foreign language editions of the book as possble to capitalize on the propaganda gains we are making at Soviet expense on Doctor Zhivago. (Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago) H.T.C. [Harry Tyson Carter] 1958, 1958-1958. National archives Identifier: 6789835; HMS Entry Number: P 277).

The letters between Feltrinelli, Schabert and Kurt Wolff mentioning the matter are still preserved at the Feltrinelli archives in Milan. On April 9, 1958, Feltrinelli wrote to Wolff:

“I would very much like to come to the States for the international book exhibition in Atlantic City, but I fear that I may have difficulties in getting a visa. Do you know anybody who might advice me and eventually push my enquiry through in Washington?” [Feltrinelli archives]

Wolff replied to Feltrinelli on April 16:

“My colleague Kyrill Schabert (you may recall meeting him at the Publishers’ meeting in Florence in 1956) is trying to do something about this matter in Washington. I will keep you informed about the outcome.” [Feltrinelli archives]

Feltrinelli was not given a visa and his visit to the USA had to be canceled. However, a new opportunity arose in October 1958 when, just a few days before the award of teh Nobel Prize to Pasternak, the United States Information Agency (USIA) made contact with Kyrill Schabert concerning the problem of acquiring translation rights for a variety of Asian and other languages.

October 17, 1958

Dear Mr. Feltrinelli,

As you will see by the enclosed copy of a letter, the United States Information Agency is anxious to make the text of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO available,in full length or condensed version, in the languages they list.

These are all languages of countries where a translation of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO would be most unlikely, except through the USIA subsidy program. Because they will have to make their formal contracts with an American publisher, would you be willing to cede us the translation rights for the languages specified in their letter so that we in turn can grant them permission?

I would suggest that any monies paid to us by the Government under this arrangement be credited to Pasternak’s royalty account without any deduction.

I hope that you can give this your favorable consideration. Please let me know your decision as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,

Kyrill Schabert. [Feltrinelli archives]

The document from the Agency was unsigned and dated October 14, 1959.

Dear Mr. Schabert:

This letter will confirm our telephone conversation of October 9, 1958, at which time I discussed with you the translation rights for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak.

            I shall appreciate your requesting from Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan, Italy, exclusive translation and publication, volume and serialization rights for full length and condenced versions in the languages below.

Arabic, Assamose, Bengali, Bicol, Burmese, Cambodian, Cebriano, Farsi, Chinese, Greek, Gijarati, Hillgaynon, Hindi, Ilocano, Indonesian, Kachin, Kannada, Korean, Laotian, Macedonian, Malay, Malayalan, Marathi, Oryin, Punjahi, Serbo Croatian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Slovenian, Tagalog, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese.

I realize that this book has appeared in a number of languages, and Feltrinelli might be negotiating directly for others. It may therefore be necessary for him to withold some of the above languages. Since arrangements for publication are made by our representatives abroad in collaboration with local publishers, the final determinations as to the languages and format in which DOCTOR ZHIVAGO will appear will be made by them.

            For the languages which you are able to obtain and release to the Agency, the following rates, which have been established as acceptable fees for non-commercial languages by American and British firms, will be paid on the basis of total copies published per language:

Book rights                             Full length versions                            Condensed versions

Up to 5,000 copies                  $50                                                      $25

5,001 to 10,000 copies            100                                                      50

10,001 to 15,000 copies          150                                                      75

More than 15,000 copies        200                                                      100

[Feltrinelli archives]

On October 31, 1958, Wolff had been very explicit that the request came from the State Department:

“The State Department’s request for exotic languages like Bengali, Sinhalese, etc. I understood that you agreed in principle to the request Mr. Schabert wrote you about and that a letter concerning this matter is on its way, stating you feel some details should be discussed verbally. We, therefore, will now take the necessary steps to make this verbal discussion possible over here. My friend Schabert tells me that he has already, over the last month, pointed out to the State Department official in question how desirable it would be to have you present here in person.” [Feltrinelli archives]

A carbon copy of the letter from Feltrinelli to Schabert to this effect, dated October 28, 1958, in on file in the Feltrinelli archives in Milan:

“Dear Mr. Schabert,

            I have received your letter of October the 17th concerning the U.S.A. request for the translation right of Dr. Zhivago. I do not think there is any objection in principle to the grant of the desired license (apart from the exclusion of some countries with which we are alraedy handling the granting of such license).

            Non the less there are quite a number of points in such an agreement which should be discussed and cleared.

            As I am looking forward to visiting the States in genuary or february with Prof. Del Bo on a contact tour with American universities (Harvard, Wisconsin etc.), I think this could be an excellent occasion to discuss and settle this matter.

My best regards,

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli” [Feltrinelli archives]

In other words, Feltrinelli saw the opportunity to use the interest on the part of the United States Information Agency to obtain the visa he had been denied in the Spring of 1958. At this stage, he

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Inge Schöntal

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and Inge Schöntal

was still planning to visit the U.S. with Giuseppe del Bo, a long time collaborator in the Biblioteca Feltrinelli, for a tour of American Universities. The plan will radically change, as Feltrinelli will visit the U.S. in the 1959 with Inge Schöntal, whom he will marry in Mexico just before reaching the U.S.

On November 5, 1958, Schabert wrote to Feltrinelli:

“Dear Mr. Feltrinelli: I was glad to hear from you that, in principle, you are agreeable to let us have the rights for the languages mentioned in my letter to you. As Mr. Wolff may have told you, I have impressed upon my friend in Washington the importance of your coming here and I have been assured that this matter is having their top attention. In fact, I expect to have good news in a few days. Should this come through, I hope you will see your way free to arrive here before the months indicated in your letter. In any event, I should tell you to undertake no steps for the time being in connection with a visitor’s visa until you hear from me.

Withe kindest regards, sincerely yours, Kyrill Schabert.” [Feltrinelli archives]

Let us now see how the above documents complement those found in the CIA newly posted documents.

The first document relating to the matter is a memo that mentions in the subject “the U.S. publisher of Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago” (namely Pantheon Press and his president Kyrill Schabert). I will indicate by [xxx] redacted parts of the document. We are interested in the third and fourth points of the document.

  1. In May 1958×1958, [xxx] suggested to [xxx]x[xxx] spelling?) of [xxx] to let Feltinelli [sic] come to the U.S. in connection with a book convention. Feltinelli holds the copy right to Dr. Zhivajo. [xxx] felt that Feltinelli’s presence could have been exploited for the benefit of the U.S. Government. [xxx], however, advised [xxx] that there was “too much red-tape involved” and thus the project failed.
  2. [xxx] is of the opinion that even now it would be most [unreadable] for the U.S. to let Feltinelli come here.

A memorandum for the record, dated November 18, 1958, brought up worries about Feltrinelli’s decision concerning how to cede rights. The points below refer to a telephone conversation with [xxx]:

  1. While [xxx] was originally set up in the broad context of [xxx] publications in general, the Dr. Zhivago book has become an important feature. [xxx]

            [xxx] saw Feltrinelli in Milan some time in late October. The purpose of seeing him was to inquire about obtaining rights for the book [xxx]. Feltrinelli took the position that he would not give right to a publisher’s agent, but he informed [xxx] that if he should receive requests from specific [xxx] publishers, he would probably go along.

  1. Feltrinelli, [xxx], may decide to give rights in one of two ways, and it is at this point that there arises a possibility of duplication. He may, for example, decide to grant exclusive rights to the first publisher in a given language who might write to him, or he may on the other hand grant rights wholesale to all comers. He remarked to [xxx] that as of the date of [xxx] visit he had already received five requests for rights [xxx]. We have no other information as to how Feltrinelli may or may not have responded to these requests.

A personal letter to the CIA director, Allen W. Dulles, provides further information. It is dated December 15, 1958:

Allen W. Dulles

Allen W. Dulles

Dear Allen:

This is the letter I spoke to you about on Saturday. The writer of the letter, [xxx],


It does seem to me that if Feltrinelli had indeed broken away from his Communist associations, a useful service might be performed in bringing him to this country.

Certainly no development in Russia in recent months has been half so damaging to the Soviet position in world opinion as was Feltrinelli’s action in publishing the Pasternak book. It was good to talk to you.

            With warm regards, [xxx]

The enclosure in question, written around December 8, 1958, read as follows:

Dear [xxx],

I wonder where this will reach you – [xxx]


            I have a rather urgent and very important question to put up to you: a good friend of mine, the publisher of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli whose name you have seen in the papers on account of all the publicity given to Pasternak when he got the Nobel Prize, has rather weighty affairs to see to in the US. Unfortunately, on account of his former communist affiliations he finds it impossible to obtain a visa through the ordinary channels. Now, Feltrinelli broke off his ties after the Hungarian revolution, and, as you know, it has been tried to make him a tool [[a comment on the side says: Allen, I am not sure I grasp this particular point]] of certain cold war activities, using Pasternak’s book, which, again, has been against his will and intention.

            You could ask [xxx] about the family (a great name in Italian industry).

            Do you see any ways and means how Feltrinelli could be assisted – via [xxx] or any other of your official connections? [xxx]


I wish to add, unnecessarily I am sure, to keep this matter as confidential as possible.




On December 22, Allen Dalles replied:

Dear [xxx]

I appreciate your recent telephone call and your letter of 15 December with its enclosure, of which I have taken a copy. We know a great deal about the subject matter of this letter and I will see whether something can be done.



On December 29, we find the following letter to Allen Dulles

Dear Allen:

Than you so much for your note on behalf of our Italian “friend”. I have since been informed that the gentleman has not even made a request for a visa. How strange these people are.

With warm regards,


Of course, Feltrinelli had been told by Schabert not to apply for a visa.

A further memorandum dated January 2, 1959 with subject “Giangiacomo Feltrinelli; Application for Visa to the U.S.” read:


  1. Mr. Feltrinelli wants to visit the U.S. ostensibly in connection with the plans of the University of Michigan Press to publish a Russian-language edition of Dr. Zhivago, possibly also for talks with Pantheon Books, publishers of the American edition ­­–- though the latter would seem less important, since Pantheon, to the best of our knowledge, has properly contracted with Mr. Feltrinelli about copyright. [xxx]


  1. The bona fides of Mr. Feltrinelli’s departure from the Italian CP is subject to doubt: even if he left the party in good faith, it is conceivable that he might have been brought under the control of either the Italian CP or the Soviet IS at some later date, especially after the publication of Dr. Zhivago and the award of the Nobel Prize to Boris Pasternak made Mr. Feltrinelli such a tempting target. Even if this were not the case, it would seem rather likely that there is some Communist informant, if not a controlled agent, among his office staff or among his close friends.

But despite the reservations expressed in the last memo, the visa was granted. The report on Feltrinelli’s interview written by the American general consul in Milan, Charles Rogers, has been published in Carlo Feltrinelli’s biography of his father, th-5Senior Service (1999, pp. 170-171) and will not be reported here.

I will conclude by recalling that Feltrinelli visited the U.S. but the plan to co-opt him for foreign rights for Doctor Zhivago came to nothing. I refer to Senior Service also for details of Feltrinelli’s trip to the United States.

The last CIA document we have in this connection is dated April 2, 1959, while Feltrinelli was still in the United States:

Memorandum for the record

Subject: Conference with [xxx]

  1. On 1 April I visited [xxx]


in his office to discuss Publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli of Milan, Dr. Zhivago and other matters in the book field. We talked briefly on the same matters today, also in his office.

  1. Feltrinelli.
  2. [xxx]

received from me a sterilized list of countries and languages in which Pasternak’s novel had been published (taken from Memorandum for the Record, 23 March 1959, subject, “Editions of Dr. Zhivago”[this is one of the documents posted on line, PM]). I asked if there was some way to prod Feltrinelli himself on the subject of publishing editions in English [xxx]

  1. [xxx] remarked the lack of [xxx]

publishers on the list, and said he knew of [xxx]

now in New York studying the American publishing business. All had written to Feltrinelli months ago asking for publication rights in their respective languages but had received no answer. Their names, and the languages for which they sought rights, follow:


  1. I thereupon asked if someone could induce Feltrinelli to deal directly with [xxx] publishers on the rights question. [xxx] mentioned that he had been invited to a reception for Feltrinelli by Pantheon Books, Ind., Pasternak’s American publishers, later in the afternoon of 1 April but was unable to go. Using this as an excuse for getting in touch with Kyrill Schabert, President of Pantheon, [xxx] telephoned to Schabert in New York. Gist of their conversation was: [xxx] asked Schabert to urge Feltrinelli to answer his mail, particularly from [xxx] publishers, because a lack of interest by Feltrinelli in [xxx] requests for rights would only encourage the theft of rights by irresponsible publishers there. Schabert promised to do what he could and would report back. When I checked with [xxx] today he said he had not heard back from Schabert, but added he would phone again. He also said he would ask Schabert if he considered a direct visit to Feltrinelli by the [xxx] in New York would produce results. [xxx] hinted doubts about this approach, principally because Feltrinelli has told Schabert that his office had been handling requests for publishing rights, long before he left Italy. Even if he met [xxx] personally, Feltrinelli probably would not be able to remember the correspondence, and might not even be interested in pursuing the subject. Feltrinelli, [xxx] said he had been told, had an attitude of superiority of business details, especially as it concerned Dr. Zhivago, being more interested in “idealism”. Upon my urging, however, [xxx] agreed to do everything possible along this line.
  2. [xxx] confirmed that British Commonwealth rights in the English language, [xxx] have been conferred upon William Collins. Thus, anyone who wishes to publish Dr. Zhivago in English [xxx] must deal with Collins, whereas deals for other languages [xxx] may be made directly with Feltrinelli’s office in Milan.
  3. In the 1 April phone conversation Schabert reported he could not tell whether Feltrinelli was personally grateful to Schabert for having helped smooth the way for the American visa, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. From [xxx] account, Schabert and other in contact with Feltrinelli in New York have found it difficult to get specific with him.

And with this, I conclude this post about Feltrinelli’s visa, a representative case study of how the CIA sources and the non CIA sources must be used in tandem.